The Humility of Christ in Yielding the Vindication of His Identity

Philippians 2:5-8:

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

This text is set apart in its description of Jesus becoming a human being. It seems that often readers focus so much on the humility of Christ detailed in verses 6-8 that the exaltation of Christ in verses 9-11 only plays the part of an exegetical crescendo. The grammatical connection between verses 6-8 and verses 9-11 is an obvious "therefore." But there is also a conceptual connection unpacked in verses 9-11 that I think sheds light on how we understand what precedes the "therefore" in verses 6-8.

Richard Bauckham's essay, God Crucified, has really helped me to understand that Paul's primary concern is not Jesus' what-ness, but his who-ness, or identity. Paul alludes to Isaiah 45:23 in verses 9-11 and declares that Jesus is the divine identity. Jesus is raised from the dead by the Father and his divine identity is proclaimed—Jesus is the LORD, the one true God to whom one day all flesh will come.

If Paul's concern is the identity of Christ rather than the faculties of his deity, how would this affect our reading of Jesus' humiliation? I think that because the issue is about divine identity that the "equality with God" in verse 6 is less about the divine privileges of how much "god-ness" Jesus gave up, and more about how he yielded the vindication of his identity to the Father.

The glory of Jesus' humiliation was not him coming to earth as anything less than who he was. Jesus was not God with his 'armed tied behind his back,' nor did he renounce his deity in some type of kenotic cleverness. The glory of Jesus' humiliation was that he did everything that he did as God. The wonder of the cross is not the death of a man who was the shadow of deity, but the death of God who had become a man. It was God as a man who hung there and heard the scoffing:

“He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:35-37)

And yet Jesus was silent. He humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. His identity was challenged and he opened not his mouth. Here is humility: Silent to his death. Silent to his grave. Silent for three days. Silent until the Father raised him from the dead and declared him to be the Son of God in power!

Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Melissa, and their four children, and is the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.